Assessing Obama's Afghanistan War strategy
Previously published on September 9, 2009
With the Afghanistan front the military focus of the Obama Administration, Americans must reevaluate what will constitute as success in the heart of the wild, wild Middle East. When US forces shifted resources from Afghanistan in 2007 to ensure stability in Iraq, the insurgents seized upon the opportunity to gain greater influence in areas where coalition forces had failed to establish a strong, lasting presence in the near stateless country.
Although the trajectory of violence has prompted analysts and military officials to warn of a coming failure, this neglected war is hardly over and realistic goals can certainly be achieved.
The growth of insurgent activity means the Afghan people are faced with a choice between submitting to the Taliban at the threat of violence or supporting the fading hopes of the government and the coalition forces building a functioning democracy. In order to swing people back to nation building, the violence must be crushed and the government needs to establish a lasting presence in all regions of its territory. Of course, there will be a heavy price for any success as the 2009 summer death toll for coalition forces already demonstrates.
Not only do more resources, including greater numbers of troops, need to be committed to Afghanistan, but those resources must be better utilized. With the focus on the Iraq front, coalition commanders were forced to take on a defensive stance. As more US troops trickle into the war zone, an offensive strategy, which tries to reduce the insurgent presence, has taken hold, yet a military response is inadequate.
Greater numbers of troops and civilian personnel are required to engage the population and establish social services while insurgents are on the run. This also means better trained and greater numbers of Afghan soldiers are desperately needed, so coalition efforts can end at some point in the perceivable future.
On the other hand, this slow escalation of forces into a losing battle is somewhat reminiscent of the Vietnam Conflict. As Afghanistan was once Russia's Vietnam, this is a serious concern; however, key differences give hope. While the Viet Cong were very diplomatic and careful in the way they treated the Vietnamese people, while the US military allowed individual troops to get away with serious crimes against those same people, the insurgents are trying to rule through fear. Meanwhile, the United States is not alone in this war.
That said, coalition support is waning when a greater commitment of resources is required from all allies. As such, reinvigorating international support for winning the Afghanistan War represents a key test for the Obama Administration. While the Obama Administration has signaled an unfavorable reassessment at the end of 2010 by General Stanley McChrystal could mean the beginning of the end for the War, the status of ally support should play a great role in determining that fate.
Without coalition support, the US will face greater strain on military resources and face an open-ended commitment to a conflict involving an emboldened enemy.
The August 2009 Afghanistan elections were technically successful, yet tainted with violence from the Taliban and alleged fraud on behalf of President Hamid Karzai that reinforces the Vietnam analogy. By the end of 2010, the fate of the Afghan war, as well as the Bush War on Terror, may be decided due to the worsening situation.
If the coalition governments cannot see a clear path to victory, the Obama Administration could well be facing a second Vietnam. In all likelihood, coalition support will almost assuredly dwindle and our allies will then withdraw their resources unless America can guarantee victory with some clear, achievable objectives.
An unlimited commitment to Afghanistan would seriously hurt the United States, so an achievable strategy must be necessary for America to stay as well.
Should ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars leave two nations facing bloody civil wars, the George W. Bush War on Terror will be a complete failure. On the other hand, shifting military resources to a global focus and renewing international support could represent the beginning of a broader, less war oriented Barack Obama war on terrorism that is necessary.
Beating down insurgents and building a nation where one has never existed would be an amazing accomplishment, but it is one that must be done by the Afghan people with the support of the international community. Unfortunately, this might not be possible and the desire to achieve such a goal must not overshadow the reality of failure.